Back to the future
I've been making song-of-the-day posts at work. Someone who's following them noticed I hadn't made one in a while (and it's sweet that people are checking in with me; even by our present debased standards I've felt pretty isolated and forgotten). That reminded me that now that the story's got a little more plot and we have some cool visual aids, I should post a followup.
I'll lead with the good news: The crippling sciatic pain that has kept my wife Susan bed-ridden since August of last year is gone. She can stand up straight, and she can walk. We actually went for a walk in the park a couple of weeks ago, which is something that we haven't been able to do in almost a year. We only went a couple hundred feet, and it was a lot of work for her, but still, progress.
The less-good news is not unexpected. First, everything hurts. A lot. She can't get comfortable. She is barred from what the physical therapists call BLT: bending, lifting, twisting. The rhythm of her daily life is basically five hours of discomfort, then an hour of pain while she waits to be able to take the next dose of meds. That is going to get better very slowly over the course of the next several months.
But she is crabby. I know this because she will shout, "I am the crabbiest person in the world! In the WORLD!" from the bedroom, where she is working on her paint-by-numbers and watching Deadwood. (That also results in her yelling quite a few other things that I won't share in a work context, often beginning with "San Francisco.")
Also, her legs are weak, both because of neurological issues and because of muscular atrophy. Ten months is a long time not to walk. She's going to be using a walker for quite a while. She has a timer on her phone to tell her when it's time to go to the bathroom because that particular sensory nerve still isn't functional yet and that's something you really don't want to overlook.
All of this, disquieting as it seems, is within expected boundaries. The surgeon is confident that a complete recovery is likely. The awful, zapping nerve pain that she had in her knees a couple weeks ago has gone. Her body's healing, and it's a little miraculous.
I took about a week of carer's leave, because really, this has all been a little much for me. I'm grateful we get carer's leave. I may take some more, although I can't really say that sitting around not being able to work because I can't get any work done is much worse than sitting around not being able to work because I'm taking the day off. I like my job a lot. I just can't do it very well right now.
(It's selfish of me, but man, am I happy I don't have to fly back and forth between Ohio and San Francisco during all this. This pandemic has really been a godsend for us. Also, no it hasn't.)
So, what you'll see in these X-rays are three titanium rods that are now doing most of the job of holding the spine erect. The spine's still bearing weight, but the weight's being transferred to the vertebrae by the cage that's bolted to them. The thirty-degree forward pitch that was turning Susan into a hunchback has been corrected, as has a transverse bend that was really messing her up.
All of the big blocky white things you see in these images are screws going into vertebrae, except for the bottom two, which are bolts that have been driven into her pelvis. Everything is titanium.
Putting this structure in her back required cutting a (more or less) structure-sized hole exposing the spine to the outside world. They bent her over a sawhorse-like surgical bed, clamped her head in place (she had impressive bruises on her head after it was all done), and spent five hours building this thing.
This is, by a substantial margin, the most awful thing that Susan has ever endured. (And she's been through worse than most.) But it has also worked.